Left Stag: April

Words: Joshua Pickering
Photos: Dan Westwell
Tuesday 14 May 2024
reading time: min, words

Following the Stags' recent wins and promotion, our trusty supporter Josh Pickering takes a look at the trials and tribulations they have faced through April...

Left Stag 2

For your entire Stags supporting life you’ve waited for this day. In that time you’ve felt real pain. Not the sort of pain you get when someone dies or you lose your job, it’s less sudden. It’s a built-up feeling from repeated disappointments – a gradual draining away of any hope until the point where, despite the realisation that you aren’t going to have any respite this weekend from the all-consuming depression that has seemingly seeped from football into your personality, you still somehow feel a fresh bolt of let-down when they inevitably lose again. Eventually, after season on season of seeing the club you’ve forced yourself to love rot away, due to a lack of investment and then relegation to the fifth tier of English football, the unceasing torture smooths out into one unsegregated sludge of ruined weekends, and you’re happy for a break when summer comes.

‘Happy’ isn’t the right word. It’s more like coming up for air before the next round of water-boarding.  You get back what you put in. Invest all your heart in a hopeless club like Mansfield and it’ll break. At least, that’s been the narrative, borne of your experiences, but also the lamenting of older fans – “they always find a way to let you down”, “this club will never do anything”, “what did you expect? It’s Mansfield”. You think to yourself that if these old boys you look up to, who saw the glory days of the seventies, can be this despondent, then you, who have never tasted anything remotely akin to glory, must have absolutely no cause to ever dream. Yet somewhere in the cavernous recesses of your mind, darkened by the shadows of failure, there flickers the tiniest ember of hope.

You’re not in this for the glory, that much is abundantly clear, but for the love. By love you mean the community, the emotion and the shared family experiences here

John Radford, local businessman and supporter takes up the charge, atop a majestic steed (a Bentley) and banishes the demons. The ember glows brighter. The cave of despair (or ‘pit of misery’, depending on your preference of metaphors) is suddenly alive with shadows and as you watch the forms dance on its walls: Paul Cox’s smiling face, the warrior spirit of Lee Beevers and finally the raised hand of Matt Green, wheeling away into the Herefordshire night, you sense you are close to something you haven’t felt before. When Adam Murray hoists the only trophy you have ever celebrated, the feeling is foreign. The significance isn’t lost on you, but you don’t feel how you thought you would. The emotion was strong when you shed tears at Cardiff after losing on penalties, as it was when Rotherham fans mocked your relegation five years ago, but why are you now not similarly overcome in a joyous way? You are finally unshackled to walk out of the cave and taste the reality that awaits you, but like the freed prisoners of Platonic analogy, you are unsure of yourself. Maybe all the joy has been drained from you. Or maybe it will take a while to undo.


As previously detailed by this column, the years in League Two after returning in 2013 are long and arduous, the next step up evasive. Your emotional battery is somewhat recharged, but seems to run out again with every failed attempt at promotion. Luckily, in the background, with a perennial electrical supply, is John Radford. Ready to go again for one more year and be the carrier of hope that you couldn’t be on your own. 

Forward to 2024. On this warm April Saturday, in the Quarry Lane End of Field Mill you stand alongside your family in appreciation of your heroes. Promotion was sealed here last Tuesday night against Accrington Stanley, as fans inundated the pitch in celebration and you watched on, again unsure how to feel, a stiff-upper-lip, employed for years as a survival mechanism, blocking your full participation in the carnival.

You came away from that night thinking deeply about how you ought to feel. You’d often told yourself that the suffering inherent in supporting a team like Stags was exactly what would make the good times so special if they ever came around. It’s a lot to put on yourself. Finally you arrive at the conclusion that you must relinquish all control. Put yourself in a situation where the moment can flood over you and take you where it will. You decide to go to the final home game of the season with the wife and kids. They’ll enjoy the atmosphere and maybe it’ll help you to feel the connection you seem to be searching for. No, stop looking and just let it find you. You’re not in this for the glory, that much is abundantly clear, but for the love. By love you mean the community, the emotion and the shared family experiences here. Not everyone comes with the same motive, but you’re sentimental. You look out over the familiar turf to the advertising boards that cover the Bishop Street Stand and remember those first steps up the narrow, terraced street that led to its crumbling turnstiles. You think of Grandad taking you in and wonder what he’d say today.

The game flies by. Stags beat Gillingham 2-1 and the ground is awash with sunshine and smiles. You feel relaxed… even happy. As the players approach on their lap of honour, their own children in their arms, yours surge to the front of the stand for a better look. You glance up at a steward with short grey hair, looking back at the crowd, a proud smile over her face and tears falling slowly below the rims of her glasses and this is the moment you needed. It comes over you in a liberating glow of emotion and you completely let go. All the years of conversations in the pubs, the train journeys, the walks in the rain, the burnt pies, the dejection, the relief, the uncertain feelings, the gallows humour, the “here we go again”, the connections, the people. THE PEOPLE. You realise in that moment what it means and you can no longer hold it back. You suddenly notice that your shoulders are involuntarily shaking and that you yourself are now crying tears, not really of joy, but of freedom from a lifetime of wandering lost in your own head. This is what it means. Your wife, not at all a football fan, immediately understands and embraces you tightly. You’re finally, truly getting back what you’ve put in. Stephen Quinn locks eyes with you and smiles – a bucket hat on his head with the words ‘one more year’. There used to be a time when ‘one more year’ meant ‘here we go again’. 

But not today. 

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